History in the making: Mark Munoz wins his middleweight debut by slipping past Nick Catone at UFC 102 in Portland

Copyright: Martin McNeil

There's nothing as exciting as a comeback. Seeing someone with dreams, watching them fail and then getting a second chance. --Rachel Griffiths

Mark Munoz, above all else, is a bit of a late bloomer.

"The Filipino Wrecking Machine" didn't step foot inside the Octagon until he was already 31 years old, a highly-anticipated debut against The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 3 fan favorite Matt Hamill. After a hat trick on the regional circuit, Munoz laid waste to a pair of World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) light heavyweights in Chuck Grigsby and Ricardo Barros.

Neither fighter made it out of the first round with their consciousness intact.

A spotless 5-0 record earned him a chance to nail "The Hammer" at UFC 96 in early 2009. While Hamill was long considered one of the finer wrestlers at 205 pounds, it was impossible to measure up to the collegiate hall-of-famer, who won the NCAA Division I National Championship in 2001 at Oklahoma State.

That was just the icing on the Filipino cake.

Munoz was also a two-time NCAA All-American; two-time NWCA Academic All-American; two-time Big 12 Conference Champion; Junior World Silver Medalist; three-time Junior World Team Member; Junior National Runner-Up; High School National Champion and two-time California CIF State Champion.

Not surprisingly, Hamill decided to keep their pay-per-view (PPV) fight standing. The decision paid dividends, as Munoz walked himself into a head kick, one that put him in dreamland for several minutes in what quickly dissolved into an uncomfortable scene in Columbus, Ohio.

The fog eventually lifted and Munoz -- fitted with a neck brace by medical personnel -- refused a stretcher and walked out of the Nationwide Arena in disgust, but more importantly, under his own power.

It was time to make some changes.

As a lifelong wrestler, Munoz was no stranger to cutting weight. In fact, he already competed under the middleweight mark against Chael Sonnen on the collegiate scene, a wrestling match that saw "The American Gangster" blatantly cheat after getting "handily" beaten.

If he did it before, he could do it again.

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) matchmaker Joe Silva was happy to oblige, giving Munoz a call back for a late-summer scrap against Nick Catone at the UFC 102 event in Portland, Oregon, which took place during the "Couture vs. Nogueira" prelims on Aug. 29, 2009.

And Munoz left the Rose Garden Arena just one judge away from being 0-2 inside the Octagon.

"The Filipino Wrecking Machine" was able to squeak by with a split decision, due largely in part to his ability to outstrike Catone. Munoz; however, came up short on the ground, only landing two of 12 takedown attempts against "The Jersey Devil," who knew a thing or two about wrestling himself, having once been ranked as high as seventh in the nation at 184 pounds.

But winning ugly is still winning.

In victory, the former Sooner evened his UFC record to 1-1. Just as importantly, he was able to establish himself in a new weight class, where he now stands at 8-2 and perhaps two or three fights away from getting back into the 185-pound title chase.

Perhaps less, depending on what happens this Saturday night across the pond.

That's where Munoz will battle former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida, who replaced Michael Bisping in the UFC Fight Night 30 main event after "The Count" went down with an uncooperative retina. Their FOX Sports 2 headliner will be contested inside the Phones4U Arena in Manchester, England, on Oct. 26, 2013.

The stakes have never been higher.

Clocking in at 35 years of age -- the same as his Brazilian counterpart -- there is no more time left to bloom for either man. Their eyes are on the prize and with the middleweight division having been turned on its head (thanks to this guy), there has been no better time to make a statement in this wide-open division.

It's now or never.

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